02/05/2007 1:00AM

Strong Contender's race days end

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Strong Contender, scratched Saturday morning from the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, has been retired, trainer John Ward confirmed on Monday.

Strong Contender, a 4-year-old son of Maria's Mon owned by John Oxley, suffered a tear in the top of his right front tendon just behind the knee. Ward believes Strong Contender incurred the injury shortly after the start of the Hal's Hope Handicap here Jan. 6 when he was knocked sideways by another horse moments after leaving the starting gate.

"He had a little thickness in the area on his right leg right where the tendon inserts into the bone near the knee for about the last 10 days, but there was no soreness until Friday evening," said Ward. "He didn't do anything that strenuous on Friday, just jogged and schooled at the gate. I just think when he ran out of the chute for the Hal's Hope he was on his right lead and the other horse slammed into his rear end and kind of torqued his front end, and that's when the injury must have occurred."

Strong Contender finished fifth in the Hal's Hope despite the early trouble. Ward had been using that race as a prep for the Donn. Strong Contender's itinerary also called for a start next month in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

"Obviously it's a blow any time you lose a good horse," said Ward, "especially when you lose him by accident like that. It's a shame, because I thought we really had him set up well for the Santa Anita Handicap, which may come up a pretty soft spot with most of the top handicap horses in this country heading for Dubai."

Strong Contender won the Grade 2 Dwyer and Super Derby at 3 and also finished third in the Grade 1 Blue Grass and Grade 1 Haskell. He retires with four victories and earnings of $618,000 from eight starts.

Future up in air for Miesque's Approval

Miesque's Approval's disappointing fifth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Canadian Turf Handicap on Saturday could have been the final start in this country for last year's Eclipse Award-winning turf horse.

Miesque's Approval is nominated to the Dubai Duty Free Handicap on March 31, and trainer Marty Wolfson said that appears to be the current goal for the Breeders' Cup Mile winner.

"If he goes to Dubai for the Duty Free, he'll train up to the race with me at Calder, and if he does go there's a good chance he will not return to the U.S.," said Wolfson.

John Rasmussen, general manager of Live Oak Stud, which bred and owns Miesque's Approval, declined to comment when asked Monday about a potential sale of Miesque's Approval before the Dubai Duty Free.

Miesque's Approval lagged at the rear of the pack and was never a serious factor in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf. It was his first start since the Breeders' Cup.

"He just wasn't himself on Saturday," said Wolfson. "He got a little excited when a couple of the outrider's ponies got too close to him as the field was moving onto the turf course prior to the race."

Jockey Eddie Castro, said Wolfson, "even jumped off briefly at that point. He just was never focused after that. The good news is that he came back from the race just fine."

Meditations to get another test

Trainer Ralph Ziadie is ready to see if his lightly raced stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Meditations can hang with the big girls when he sends her out Saturday in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes.

Meditations has started just three times, finishing second in her debut before rolling to 10 3/4-length victories in both of her last two outings, including the 1 1/16-mile Three Ring Stakes in her juvenile finale.

Ziadie shipped Meditations, a homebred owned by Lucy Bassett, to Gulfstream from her Calder base on Sunday, when she worked five furlongs in 59.22 seconds under jockey Rafael Bejarano.

"We were hoping to get a prep into her before the Three Ring but couldn't get a race to fill, so we had to send her two turns for the first time in a stakes, and she couldn't have run any better," said Ziadie. "After that we just gave her some time and have been pointing for the Davona Dale all along, although I didn't expect we'd catch such a potentially strong field that may include the Breeders' Cup winner."

The Davona Dale is expected to lure Dreaming of Anna, winner of the BC Juvenile Fillies and the

2-year-old Eclipse, and possibly trainer Shug McGaughey's Grade 2 winner Boca Grande.

Delayed debut a sharp one

Curlin turned in an impressive debut, drawing off to a 12 3/4-length victory in Saturday's fourth race. A 3-year-old son of Smart Strike, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

Curlin is trained by Helen Pitts for the Midnight Cry Stable, the same connections as Grade 1 winner Einstein.

"He's always shown promise, but we had to stop on him at 2 because of shins," said Pitts. "The time off probably did him some good, because it helped him mature. We knew he had some talent, but you never expect a horse, especially a first-time starter, to win off like that."

Pitts said she's not looking for anything too tough for Curlin just yet despite the big maiden win.

"I'd like to stretch him out next time to a mile or a mile and one-sixteenth, although I'm not going to toss him up against the wolves just yet," said Pitts. "We've got plenty of time before he needs to go up against horses like Nobiz Like Shobiz."

Nobiz Like Shobiz, winner of last year's Remsen, began his 2007 campaign with a victory in Saturday's Holy Bull here.

Curlin was one of three winners for Pitts on the weekend. She also won two races Sunday with 3-year-olds Silverinyourpocket and For You Reppo.

Prado's flight time moved up

As reported Monday, jockey Edgar Prado will soar with the Blue Angels flight team, although he won't have to wait quite as long as he originally believed.

According to Lt. Commander Tom Prusinowski of the Navy, who arranged for the experience, Prado will take a 45-minute flight with the Blue Angels at the team's home base in Pensacola, Fla., later this month.

"Once he completes the paperwork, he must pass a physical and go through a short indoctrination, and he's ready to go," said Prusinowski, who met Prado at a party hosted by Starlight Stable owner Jack Wolf at Saratoga last summer. "It isn't easy for anyone, even a celebrity, to get what is called the 'Golden Ticket' to fly with the Blue Angels. He's the first jockey to go up. The only other sport celebrities I know of to have taken the flight are Tiger Woods and Dale Earnhardt Jr."

Prusinowski said he got the idea to recommend Prado, whose son is enrolled in flight school in Florida, for the Blue Angel flight after a discussion with the Eclipse-winning jockey about what it felt like to ride Barbaro.

"He said once Barbaro kicked in it felt like an F-18 taking off," said Prusinowski.